How To Start Your Own Blog
As a Microsoft MVP, blogging is how I share things I am passionate about. In this blog post, I will help you to start your own blog, pick a blogging platform, and choose a good blog name. After reading this blog post, you will be capable of creating your own professional blog and share your ideas to the world.
To start your own blog is a great way to share your thoughts, expertise, and passion about any topic of your choice. You might have never published something online before, and you want to take the first step towards starting your own blog. Congratulations, this is a huge step and a success by itself.
Many people in the IT community live and work in silos. They go to work, do what they are told to do, and that’s it. Some spent 15 or 20 years in the same job, focusing on daily tasks, doing what they always do, nothing more.
I’m not that type of people, I get board quickly and I’m passionate about learning new things. I love to share what I’ve learned so that others can benefit.
I also don’t like to be defined as a person by my daily work at my company like (Ammar is the IT guy in company xxx). This is my work and not what defines me as a person. I want to be known by my unique opinions and expertise in instead (more about this in a future post about Personal Branding, so follow this blog to get notified).
Since we are talking about the passion to share, I want to start this blog post by telling you how I started my blog. The key thing is to take a decision to blog, even if it is a small post initially. You don’t have to be good at blogging at first. All beginnings are hard. Don’t get disappointed if you didn’t get good traffic to your blog at first.
Once you start, there are things you can do to enhance your blogging practice and help your posts appear in the first google search page eventually. It takes time, experience and some tricks that I am going to share with you in this and future posts.
1. My first blog post
In 2007, I was working in a big international company and was part of big IT implementation across the globe. Whenever I finish an implementation, I have a habit of documenting what I did and how I solved problems that I faced. Usually, those documentations are kept on the company’s internal portal, begging for someone to read them. They stay there without any value which makes me wonder why I am bothering to document such things.
I recall it was December 2007 when I finished implementing a very complex multi-tier PKI infrastructure with smart card enrollment using Microsoft CLM (a.k.a Microsoft FIM). I did a lot of experiments on smart cards, Kerberos, digital certificates, and finally figured out how systems work and interact with each other’s. I spent weeks documenting the whole installation process with screenshots, Visio diagrams, and I called it (The Ultimate Guide for Smart Card Enrollment). I was so proud of this accomplishment as I didn’t find anyone in the internet writing about such complex setup.
I went to my manager’s office and share with him my guide. He is a smart man, but he would not go to the small details of my implementation and I couldn’t show him the complexity of what I had accomplished. My guide was sitting at my machine for no one but myself to read.
I remember searching the internet for many nights trying to find if someone did such similar setup but couldn’t find any. This is when I decided to share my guide and experience to the whole world. I didn’t do it to illustrate my skills, but rather to help others find a quick way to do a similar project without going through the long hard process.
I started with one blog post talking about a small topic. I didn’t know how to write a blog. Shall I welcome the readers first? Shall I just copy and paste from my own written document? What about grammar check? Is it okay to talk about things I am facing at work or will that get me in trouble?
I didn’t care about all that at the beginning. I just started to post random things about different IT topics. My only concern back then is to get what I know online. I was not waiting to see traffic to my blog, I just did it to put my knowledge online without waiting for something in return.
Months later, I discovered the Statistics Dashboard in WordPress. It gave me insights about traffic coming to my blog, and there was indeed small traffic on daily basis. Oh, how happy I was back then, “someone is really reading what I’m writing online! How crazy is that“.
I learned a lot through the years and become good at blogging. I sometimes can’t imagine how stupid my old posts look, but that’s fine. It is part of any evolution. Don’t be shy if your first blog posts don’t look perfect, be proud of them instead. One day you’ll look back and remember how you started this journey like I did.
2. Preparation work
Picking a platform
You can pick one of many platforms to host your blog. However, WordPress is the most popular one as it powers 30% of the internet today. There are two flavors of WordPress:
- WordPress.com platform (easy to step, good for beginners, now includes a business tier, comes with a free tier).
- WordPress.org platform (you need web hosting first but it offers a lot of advantages with plugins support and theme customization, most professional bloggers uses this platform).
Which one to choose is up to you. If you want to start blogging without paying any money, go for WordPress.com and pick the free tier. You will get your blog with a URL that ends with wordpress.com, for example myblog.wordpress.com. The below picture shows the setup process for WordPress.com.
From my experience
Back when I started blogging, I was using the free tier of WordPress.com for almost 6 years. Frankly speaking, I wasn’t worry about how my blog looks like or ranking high on search engines.
With time and experience, I learned a lot about how professional bloggers do what they do. I read couple of books about Search Engine Optimization SEO for bloggers, and I knew that to grow my blog, I need to switch to the WordPress.org platform.
Note: Search Engine Optimization is the key factor for the success of any blog post and it directly affects your post’s ranking in search engines. In future blog posts, I will guide you on how to optimize your posts with SEO best practices.
Choosing your blog name
Finding a good domain name can be a pain, however it is an essential part of branding your blog. COM remains the best domain name extension, but if you find a great domain that uses something different, it may be worth opting for that instead.
It is a nightmare to change your domain name afterword, especially if you have current traffic coming to your blog. Search engines also get upset when they sense it. It can be done, but it requires a lot of redirection rules and careful consideration.
Pick a name from the beginning and try to stick with it. There are two approaches to pick your domain name:
- First Approach: use your own name. If you look at my blog, you will see that I’m using the first letter of my firs name (Ammar) and my last name (Hasayen) to construct my blog domain name (ahasayen.com).
- Second Approach: choose a name that is not related to your name such as AzureDecoded.com or DevelopersHomeLand.com
There is no right or wrong way. I picked the first approach because I didn’t know initially what I am going to blog about, so I branded my blog with my name. This gives you the freedom to use your blog for various topics without being restricted to certain topics.
You can pick AzureDecoded.com as your blog domain name. The name is catchy and cool. Just by looking at it you know what topics you will be covering. You can put it in you business card or email signature and it looks great. It helps you brand your experience in Azure.
From the other side, if for any reason you decided to blog heavily about AWS, Oracle cloud, or any other non Azure related topic, then it won’t make sense with such domain name. What if you accepted an offer in AWS and you want to use your current blog to promote AWS architecture?
Of course you can just create another blog with new domain name, but you will lose all your current followers and traffic hitting your current blog. You have to start all over.
Don’t overthink this topic now. Just give it little thought and come up with a blog domain name. You will be fine, don’t worry.
3. Create your blog
Let me start with this. If you want just to create a blog without paying money and just try blogging for a while, then go for the free tier of wordpress.com.
If you are already reading this blog post and following me for a while, I expect you are serious about blogging and already you know what you are doing. Therefore, I would recommend you do the following
- Get your credit card
- Buy a good domain name for your blog
- Host it in WordPress.org
- Follow my future posts to optimize your blogging experience and settings.
You need to pay a small amount of money to host your blog in WordPress.org so you can install plugins that helps you optimize your blog posts and increase your SEO rank so search engines rank your post high.
Get web hosting
To start using the wordpress.org platform, you need to host it somewhere and my recommendation is to host it at siteground.com. When you go there, follow these steps.
Choose Reliable Web Hosting as shown in the picture below.
Now pick the StartUp plan which is great to start with. You can upgrade to other plans anytime.
If you didn’t purchase a domain name for your blog already, pick one and click Proceed.
In the next screen, enter your email and pick any password. Keep those credentials safe as you will use them to manage your web hosting.
Scroll down to fill your credit card information. Remember that good thing cost money and are not free. Choose 12 months period to commit for one year. This will make you eligible for 50% discount for the first year. This means you will pay 5.59$ monthly for the first year and 11.95$ monthly for upcoming ones.
Scroll down again and you will see that your blog name registration costs 15.95$ yearly. I also recommend you purchase the SG Site Scanner to keep your blog safe from cyber attacks. Once you are done with all details, hit Pay Now.
Deploying a Web Site
One you clicked PAY NOW, you will receive the below confirmation that your account is read. Click Proceed To Customer Area.
You will be redirected to the your home page. Click Web Sites.
You will see my web site (AzureDecoded.com) and the status is Pending. Click COMPLETE.
You get a timeline and we are at stage 2 (Setup a site). Click Start New Website then WordPress.
Now enter the credentials that you will use from now on to logon your blog admin dashboard. Click COMPLETE.
Now we are back in the timeline page and we have finished setting up our WordPress site. Stage three is all about up-selling extra services. For now, I will not choose anything and I will click FINISH.
Configuring Web Site
You are now all set. Let’s click on Manage Site.
You will be redirected to your web site dashboard. Think about this as your IIS where your website is hosted. Here we can configure AzureDecoded.com DNS setting (like adding A records if we want to) or configuring backup to our website.
Let’s configure our blog so it accepts only HTTPS traffic. We need an SSL certificate for this purpose. Go to Security then SSL Manager. Under Manage SSL, you get a free authentic SSL certificate from SiteGround with your domain name (you don’t have to purchase or pay anything). Click on three dots in the right and choose Enforce HTTPS.
Now click on GO TO MY ACCOUNT, and then choose Websites. We will find AzureDecoded.com web site listed here. To go back to the dashboard that we just left, you can click on Site Tools.
But for now, we want to finally logon to the WordPress Admin Dashboard. To do so, click on WordPress Kit.
Click on WordPress Admin.
Enter the credentials that you picked earlier and hit Log in.
Congratulations! you are now accessing your WordPress.org blog dashboard.
You can try and open a browser window and access AzureDecoded.com and you will get a default page from WordPress. Notice how WordPress redirect you to https as configured.
4. Next steps
Congratulations. You own a blog with your custom domain name and it is hosted in wordpress.org. There are a lot of great and exciting things you can do to optimize, customize and extend you blog in ways that only makes you blog more professional and reachable to people.
In upcoming blog series, we will continue configuring the WordPress dashboard and install couple of plugins and themes to make your blog look nice and perform well.
Remember what they say; “The Best Place to Hide a Dead Body is Page Two of Google”. This means you have to work slowly and consistently to make your blog posts rank high in search engines, so people can discover your content. I will save this for upcoming posts, so don’t forget to follow this blog to get notified or follow me on twitter here @ammarhasayen
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